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Brush up on back-to-school nutrition

August 22, 2007|By LYNN LITTLE

As a new school year approaches, it is important to remember the role nutrition plays in assuring kids a successful school year. Proper nutrition is crucial for social, emotional and psychological development.

Nutrition and learning go hand in hand. Kids who are nutritionally fit are more likely to have the energy, stamina and self-esteem that enhance their ability to learn. Running out the door with thoughts of seeing old friends, participating in school sports and other school activities - as well as getting good grades - kids will not be paying much attention to the proper nutrition needed to accomplish all of this.

Parents can help ensure that their child is well-nourished and ready to learn by considering the following tips.

Start with a healthy breakfast. For children and teens, a morning meal is especially important to prepare them to meet the challenges of learning. Many studies have shown that those who eat a morning meal tend to perform better in school, score higher on tests, have higher school attendance, less tardiness, better concentration and muscle coordination. Kids who eat breakfast have fewer hunger-induced stomachaches and are less likely to be overweight.

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You can make breakfast fun by planning it with your child. Decide who prepares what and work together to get it done. If your child doesn't like traditional breakfast foods, don't worry, breakfast foods can be any food they like, even a slice of pizza. Keep quick-to-fix foods on hand or get breakfast foods ready the night before with a little early effort, such as mixing a pitcher of juice. If kids say they are not hungry, start them out with something light like juice or toast and send them off with a nutritious mid-morning snack, such as yogurt or cheese.

Some children believe skipping breakfast will help them lose weight. Just the opposite is true. Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day. If you get too hungry, it can lead to a lack of control and the inability to determine when you are full. This can result in consuming more calories than if you had eaten an appropriate breakfast.

As for lunch, meals served at school contribute significantly to children's overall nutrient and energy needs. Do you know what they are eating? School meals are regulated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Through USDA guidance, schools are serving high-quality, nutritious lunches designed to supply about one-third of a child's daily nutrition needs.

Parents can play a role in helping a child choose healthful meals in several ways. Keep the school lunch menu in your kitchen, go over it with your child, and talk with your child about making choices in the cafeteria line.

If your child prefers to carry lunch to school, let your child help plan and prepare their packed lunches. When they're involved, chances are they will resist trading their carrots for cookies. Pack meals that are nutritious, easy to prepare and fun to eat. A few examples are sandwiches, raw veggies, crackers, string cheese, whole fruit and yogurt or pudding. Be certain to include a cold source in the packed lunches so foods stay safe until lunchtime.

Finally, for after-school snacks, choose foods that supply needed nutrients that can be missed in meal choices. Stock up with ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, animal crackers, popcorn and cereal. Your child will appreciate the availability of simple, healthy snacks.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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